Amrita Sher-Gil, Feminist Legacies

Born to a Sikh aristocratic father and a Hungarian mother in 1913 in Budapest, Amrita Sher-Gil straddled multiple worlds to hone her revolutionary artistic style that blended traditional Indian and Western sensibilities.  

India in the 1930s and 40s was on the threshold of great change, and Amrita’s art and life reflected these times. She trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, yet, it was her rich encounters in India, the Indigenous frescoes at Ajanta caves, and her thirst for the deep colours of the land that ultimately inspired her extraordinary work.  

Her passion and charm were renowned, and while she entertained many male lovers, she also explored relationships with women. Her piece “Two Girls” reflects a larger view, an openness that sees women as strong individuals who are not tethered to the artifice of convention. When questioned by her mother about her sexuality, she notes in a letter that she would start a relationship with a woman “when the opportunity arises”.  

While Amrita was an important forebearer of modern art in India, her journey was arduous, lonely and she was rarely able to sell her work during her lifetime. But Amrita carved a space of her own through the courageous feminization of themes in her work and the way she lived her life. Today her art is considered a national treasure in India and can be seen at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.  

Women artists in the West had groups and movements during the 1940’s, but Amrita’s pioneering journey tells a solitary tale of personal conviction, ambition and resilience fueled by a flame to fulfill herself through art.  What a precious inheritance for feminists everywhere!  

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